Modeling and experimenting: The combinational strategy in synthetic biology

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Knuuttila, Tarja; Loettgers, Andrea
conference paper description
In which respects do modeling and experimenting resemble or differ from each other? We explore this question through studying in detail the combinatorial strategy in synthetic biology whereby scientists triangulate experimentation on model organisms, mathematical modeling, and synthetic modeling. We argue that this combinatorial strategy is due to the characteristic constraints of the three epistemic activities. Moreover, our case study shows that in some cases materiality clearly matters, in fact it provides the very rationale of synthetic modeling. We will show how the materialities of the different kinds of models – biological components versus mathematical symbols – in combination with their different structures – the complexity of biological organisms versus the isolated network structure and its mathematical dynamics - define the spectrum of epistemic possibilities in synthetic biology. Furthermore, our case shows that from the perspective of scientific practice the question of whether or not simulations are like or unlike experiments is often beside the point, since they are used to accomplish different kinds of things.